So, probably not something anyone was expecting but I love Jeeves and Wooster. I think I first stumbled upon one of their repeats on ITV3 about…six years ago. I’d never watched a whole episode but knew what it was called. I think. Memory isn’t really my strong suit. I don’t think I actively watched the repeats but one of my Christmas requests was for the DVDs. Watched them all and fell in love.
The series, filmed in the early 1990s, was based on P.G. Wodehouse’s wonderful novels and short stories about Bertram Wilberforce “Bertie” Wooster and his valet Jeeves. Mostly, Bertie’s hopeless friends have ridiculous problems, get Bertie involved to the detriment of all involved and Jeeves solves everything. It’s all very simple, lighthearted and set in the 1930s – one of my favourite eras.
The most lingering aspect of the series and the books is the relationship between Bertie and Jeeves. Wodehouse has most of this easily set up in the books but the characters come into their own when played by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Their existing close friendship and work as a “double act” completely pays off. Apart from the first episode, where they met, the viewer enters Bertie’s life unaware of the length of time Jeeves has been in his employ. There is no real long-standing arc. Every episode is stand alone. A “monster of the week” episode if you will. The friendship between the two needs to be accepted instantaneously. In the books the timeline is all over the place and references within as such. Bertie always needs to explain where he is and the stories read as you would imagine Bertie telling them. Haphazardly.
Another component of the series is the language used. Clive Exton, the writer, does his best to recreate Wodehouse’s dialogue as best he could. Bertie, in particular, uses distinctly 30s phrases, key ones being “What ho!” (how I long to greet people with that without getting strange looks. I have simple dreams) and “dash it!” (not for polite conversation). The language is one key way of getting the audience into Wodehouse’s world that is so removed from modern day.
Which brings me to the 1930s. These stories just wouldn’t work in a modern setting or even in a slightly later period. The frivolity and “boom” of the 30s mean that a man living off unspoken wealth, employing a valet, spending his time drifting from country house to gentlemen’s club (not that kind, get your head out of the gutter) to New York and back again don’t seem as far-fetched as they would during or post-WWII.
And with the 1930s setting brings the costumes, sets and music. A lot of care is taken with Bertie and Jeeves’ costumes in particular and this emphasis on suits is, obviously, very important to this blog.
Regular jokes are made in both the books and the series about Jeeves’ disapproval of any changes made to Bertie’s clothing. Jeeves may be employed by Bertie, but it’s Bertie who is under Jeeves’ (positive) influence.
The sets! Art Deco was a beautiful architectural movement and if my life could be lived in it I would die happy. Hell, if I could get married in Eltham Palace I’d die happy straight away. (Who’d knock that kind of offer?)
Bertie’s flat is decorated with a distinctive Art Deco style as are some other locations but when Bertie visits various relatives or friends at country houses these are much more old fashioned. In fact, Downton Abbey could film nearly straight away. (Don’t forget, Downton is only just about to enter the 20s.) Well, if you lived in a “Tower” (Totleigh Towers) or “Court” (Brinkley Court) that was hundreds of years old and furnished with family heirlooms would you re-decorate the second a new style came into fashion? I think not. All of these settings are perfectly believable within Wodehouse’s world.
Now, the music. The theme tune of Jeeves and Wooster is brilliant. Anne Dudley completely encapsulates the mood of the 30s. As a present for my Mum, we got my Dad (stick with me) the sheet music for the theme as he’s learning jazz piano. Has he touched it? Has he heck. I’ve tried but my attention span is a little limited and since my Dad’s started learning on MY piano I barely get a chance anyway.
But, all of that is beside the point. The music score is appropriately upbeat and, because of the era, it is perfectly reasonable for Bertie to spend his time at the piano with the latest “hits”. These are some of the most enjoyable scenes. Bertie playing the piano and singing while Jeeves…reacts.
Now, these ramblings are from one fan of a series that doesn’t get the attention it deserves (I blame the incessant ITV3 repeats) and confirms that Fry and Laurie should be back on the screen. Together. The show has also led me to enjoy the writings of P.G. Wodehouse and start to collect his books (I’m a hoarder/collector). All this and I have just discovered that the BBC are filming a Blandings TV series (Wodehouse’s second most famous series of books). It was announced in February. Who knows what I was doing to miss this news. Or maybe I’ve just forgotten. Be shocked I even remember watching Jeeves and Wooster. Regardless, read here how Timothy Spall and Jennifer Saunders lead the cast. I’m in.
I mean, you didn’t find Sherlock Holmes refusing to see clients just because he had been out late the night before at Doctor Watson’s birthday party.
Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
(I just find that funny. And its evident of Bertie’s attitude towards life. To me, at least.)